Voices from Accenture Public Service

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In my conversations with state and local CIOs and other leaders, one of the most common remarks I hear about why they’re moving to agile is that waterfall is simply not working for them anymore. That’s hardly surprising. To meet and exceed changing citizen expectations, governments must become more flexible, nimble and fast at designing and delivering public services. Working with an approach that can mean many months (or even a year!) from initial requirements to solution delivery is no longer fit for purpose. When it comes to digital services, “good enough for government” is no longer good enough. That demand is growing. Our research shows that in 2016, 85 percent of US citizens expected the same or more from government digital services compared to commercial digital services; that’s compared with 73 percent of citizens asked the same question in 2014.

Agile methodologies—based on rapid discovery, design, development, testing and delivery—have proven effective in the commercial sector at meeting the needs of a fast changing business environment. But agile is much more than a change to how IT operates. To get agile right requires an organizational and cultural shift that embraces business, budgeting, and procurement, as well as IT.

When I talk to technology leaders within state and local government, two key dimensions of that shift stand out. The first is how to find the best way to engage the business. With agile, the engagement is be continuous from start to finish, without the gap that exists during build and test in waterfall. And the second, related, point is that because with agile there’s no ‘big bang’ deployment, organizations get the chance to adapt and update their priorities as elements of a solution are rolled out.

With traditional waterfall approaches, there are highly detailed requirements, a precise schedule, and an agreed dollar amount for the budget, all minutely scrutinized and painstakingly put in place before pressing ‘go’ on delivery. In contrast, agile requirements serve as more of a roadmap to the outcomes the business is trying to achieve. That’s not to say that there won’t be set schedules and budget, but exactly what gets delivered can and will change as the organization’s needs evolve – and that requires new thinking across the organization.

In this series of blogs, I’m going to look at the different dimensions of change that successfully shifting to agile requires. To do that, I’ll be drawing on some research that we’ve carried out with NASCIO which offers rich insights into the challenges and opportunities state and local governments are facing today as they move to agile.

I’ll be looking at a number of key areas in detail as the series progresses. A focus will be examining the organizational and operational changes that agile demands in state and local. There is an “organizational DNA,” a set of written and unwritten rules that guide how organizations do business every day. It’s the context in which agile projects will either flourish or fail, so understanding how things are today and how they need to be different is a crucial first step.

I’ll discuss how organizations can engage the business in new – and likely to be unfamiliar to many – ways. It’s crucial, for example, that business stakeholders see the value in collaborating and are ready to put in the time required.

Another critical area is procurement. Moving from voluminous RFPs to new ways of sourcing services and working with vendors to support agile is a big shift. Having a procurement team that can work differently to support agile is critical – and I’ll be exploring some of the dimensions of change that will be decisive to moving forward successfully. I’ll also be looking at training and coaching that can help build the ‘one team’ ethos for agile. Finally, I’ll look at suggestions from states that are successfully moving to agile, sharing their recommendations for how organizations can get started, and where the most fruitful places to begin might be.

Of course, there’s no set path for moving to agile. Each organization’s context and culture determines how they’ll proceed. But one thing that all state and local governments share is the need to become more responsive, fleet-footed and nimble in the creation and delivery of services. Agile represents a big part of achieving that. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you – and I’d welcome any that you would like to share with me.

See this post on LinkedIn: The Agile imperative: What is it and why does it matter?

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